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Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 87 Michael Young, receiver

College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic - Clemson v Notre Dame

ARLINGTON, TEXAS - DECEMBER 29: Michael Young #87 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish takes the field with teammates before the game against the Clemson Tigers during the College Football Playoff Semifinal Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic at AT&T Stadium on December 29, 2018 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Getty Images

Listed Measurements: 5-foot-10, 190 pounds.2019-20 year, eligibility: A junior, Young has two seasons of eligibility remaining, including 2019.Depth chart: As senior Chase Claypool moves to the boundary receiver position from the field (wide) side in place of Miles Boykin, Young steps into a starting role at the field where his speed and strong hands should be of use.Recruiting: A consensus three-star recruit, Young is the only remaining receiver from the class of 2017, partly due to a late de-commitment in the cycle and partly due to Jafar Armstrong moving into the backfield.

While appearing in all 26 games of the last two seasons, Young’s stats have not tallied at the same rate. That speaks more toward Notre Dame’s other receiving options in those seasons — a freshman was not going to supplant Equanimeous St. Brown or even Kevin Stepherson, and Miles Boykin’s ceiling last year needed to be available for the Irish offense — than it does to Young’s talent.

When given chances, Young has flashed. Of his four catches for 18 yards as a freshman, two receptions and a touchdown came in the Citrus Bowl victory against LSU. Last season’s seven catches for 138 yards and a score were highlighted by a 66-yard screen that Young turned into a scoring opportunity at Wake Forest.

Though Young came up two yards short of the end zone on that catch-and-dash, his speed has never been what held him back. Rather, a slight receiver will typically struggle at this level. (The same reason why Braden Lenzy did not get on the field as a freshman last year.)

“Michael has put on weight, good weight, and he’s faster,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said at the start of spring practice. “He just needed that weight to get out there and cover up [defensive backs] and do his job, catch the ball in traffic and be more confident as a football player. Still have to catch it, and have to catch it consistently, but he hasn’t lost a step, he’s got that explosive speed that we recruited.”

That weight is not the only aspect of Young’s approach that has shifted with time. When his high school coaches visited Notre Dame in March as part of a coaches clinic, they apparently recognized some of the things Kelly described about Young in conversation, perhaps things they kept a bit to themselves while Young was being recruited.

“You get that unvarnished truth after he’s here for three years,” Kelly said a week later. “‘Hey, that’s the way he was as a freshman (in high school), he was a little bit worried about too many things, but then he settled into focusing on just playing football, catching it and making plays.’

“That’s what we’re starting to see.”

“With the exception of the incoming freshmen, specifically Braden Lenzy, Young provides the best and arguably singular top-end speed among the Irish receivers. Senior Chris Finke is very quick and senior Miles Boykin has underrated burst, but Young’s ability to alter an opposing secondary’s coverage is unparalleled at this point. Notre Dame will need that.

“Projecting specific statistical benchmarks is difficult since they depend so much on the Irish quarterbacks’ development. More importantly than predicting a floor (perhaps 25 catches for 400 yards and five touchdowns), a consistent season would help with the passers’ progress. A year ago, Notre Dame’s receivers were just as up-and-down as quarterback Brandon Wimbush was. If Young can prove to be a productive option week-in and week-out, that safety valve could do wonders for the passing game as a whole.”

Those numbers were clearly overzealous. They should not be any longer.

Young exited spring an unquestioned starter. Lenzy has not yet shown the same ability to fight through coverage or equally strong hands to challenge Young, despite Lenzy’s top-end speed. Furthermore, Young has some degree of chemistry with Book, as seen back in that Citrus Bowl and in last month’s Blue-Gold Game.

Young may yet be the third Irish receiver in nearly every regard, perhaps even fourth if junior tight end Cole Kmet emerges as expected, but in an offense as high-powered as this one is expected to be, the third receiver can grab two dozen catches for 350-400 yards. Frankly, such a stat line would not be outlandish for a No. 4 receiver.

In 2018, tight end Alizé Mack was the fourth target, at least statistically-speaking, and he finished with 36 catches for 360 yards and three touchdowns. In 2015’s explosive offense, receiver Torii Hunter finished fourth in receptions, pulling in 28 passes for 363 yards and a pair of scores.

As the only receiver in the junior class, Young’s experience this season will serve as a bit of a transitional key heading into 2020. Both Claypool and fifth-year Chris Finke will be gone at that point, leaving Young as the elder statesman in the room.

Notre Dame will need to develop a receiver rotation; offensive coordinator Chip Long would undoubtedly prefer that occur in 2019, but it will be even more necessary in 2020 with so little experience on hand. Young as the leader in that rotation should show itself not only in playing time, but also in targets and thus yards, giving him one season’s chance to star.

NOTRE DAME 99-to-2:
No. 95: Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle
No. 94: Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle
No. 91: Ade Ogundeji, defensive end
No. 90: Hunter Spears, defensive tackle, early-enrolled consensus four-star
No. 89: Brock Wright, tight end
No. 88: Javon McKinley, receiver